Hurrah, Hurrah

(Fair warning: this is a long one)

I pray I never forget that all of this was once a distant dream.

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I don’t want to go too far back with this post, but I’ll start by saying I remember snippets of 2013. Photos of Stanford were my wallpapers and cover photos, and I spent every single day toiling over application essays. I remember the day all the decisions came in, and I was in Malaysia so it was in the middle of the night and I woke up just to check my emails and the Penn decision was the last one I opened after a stream of rejections and a song came on but it still hadn’t occurred to me what that meant because I was still scanning for a “sorry” or an “unfortunately” as I successfully found in the previous letters. Oddly enough, I don’t remember what happened next or who I told first or what we did to celebrate. But I remember feeling apprehensive. I remember tearing up at the mere thought of leaving the country, leaving the people and places I knew, the people and places that made me, me.

And before I knew it, I was thrown into the Penn current. One of my clearest, probably most defining moments at Penn was early in the Fall semester of my Freshman year when Shahirah and I walked out of Huntsman after Malaysians@Penn Elections. The upperclassmen were talking about their other time commitments this semester and it was the first time I saw that students here were really involved, and involved in so many different cool things I could never imagine myself doing. Shahirah and I left the elections and I panicked. I felt like I was absolutely in over my head at this school. I saw so vividly the gap between where I was and where I was expected to be and it scared me. We sat down on a random bench on Locust, just past the Tampons (to non-Penn readers: it’s a structure on campus and Tampons is just the shorthand, though idk what it’s really called) and she and I just talked it out.

A friend once told me, you never want to be the smartest person in the room. Well, that was never a problem here because I think the freshman year panic attack was the beginning of four years of being on the bottom ranks of every single room I was in. It was a huge, long, drawn out lesson in humility. Repeatedly, I was tested with the temptation of comparison. Everyone else seemed to be doing so much more, so much better. I learned to tell myself to keep my head down and all my time here has been a piecemeal process towards internalising the belief that my trajectory cannot be compared with anyone else’s because we didn’t all come from the same place—and that doesn’t mean victimising myself or whatever, just… acknowledging the fact that we’ve had vastly different experiences, and any comparison is meaningless. I don’t think I’ve completely bought this idea yet, but I am a lot better at it now than I used to be.

Besides that, I think graduating college is difficult because I don’t know for sure how else I am different than I used to be. Not being able to answer that question, I’ve once said before, is like leaving the petrol station after filling up your tank without a gas indicator; you don’t know whether you’ve really gotten enough out of it. I think I find it difficult to list the ways in which I’ve grown. It’s not really reflected in my grades. I didn’t learn Excel like I thought I would. I still read primary documents very slowly. I still write with a lot of planner’s paralysis. So even though I’ve had a tumultuous love-hate relationship with Penn, I feel like I leave with a heavy heart, like I fell short, like I wasted my time.

And it’s not just the unpreparedness that weighs on me, it’s also that my grief really blindsided me. I struggled to make a home out of this place (case in point) and I revolted at the notorious work hard play hard never ever stop pre-professional pretend-everything-is-ok-even-when-its-not culture of the campus. I didn’t like it. I’ve attended college application workshops in Malaysia unofficially representing Penn and applicants would come up to me with wide-eye wonder and I’d be expected to talk up my school and I wouldn’t know what to say because I didn’t like it. I cried my eyes out like something was being yanked from inside me every time I had to leave KL because I didn’t like it. I left right after every final and arrived right before every semester’s first class because I didn’t like it (exhibit A, exhibit B). I told people I wouldn’t miss it because I didn’t like it. You get the picture! So, part of me is so upset that I didn’t see this coming. I knew I would miss my friends and learning, but I didn’t expect to feel so sad to say goodbye to all the things I feel like I didn’t enjoy. People tell me that I’m very self-aware and introspective, and even earlier in this essay, I said that I think I’ve grown most in self-discernment. So the fact that all of this caught me off guard has been really disconcerting. Do I actually so severely lack astuteness? Was I just too stubborn?

A few days after commencement, I texted my friend Hanna like “is this what labour feels like? It’s the most painful thing ever and then you give birth and see your baby and you’re like I LOVE THIS and you just do it again and again” because maybe that’s what this was. Maybe I could have never seen it coming, and maybe I should be less hard on myself (another lesson I grappled with throughout my time at Penn, and one that I think will continue for years). But I leave curious when this shift happened. When did I start to love this place? When did it start to feel like home? (side note: it made me think of that song in Beauty and the Beast where they’re having a snowball fight and they sing “there may be something there that wasn’t there before” because that’s when they noticed they were falling in love and I wish in life things could be as clear as they are in Disney films)

I wrote about this in January, but maybe I just underestimated the extent to which my feelings towards this place were changing:

But I like Philly a bit more now. I like that I’ve had the same apartment for over two years now. I like the way I can tell it has been snowing by the way the tiles in my apartment lobby look. I like how I know whether or not I’ll make the traffic light before I actually get there. I can walk to Van Pelt on autopilot and instinctively know to avoid the steamy pot hole on the way there. The way walking past Starbucks on 39th gives me deep chills because it reminds me of pre-sunrise coffee runs. This didn’t just happen. I earned this. We earn the places we call home.

Anyway. I guess I still have a long way to go with regards to getting better at reflecting, etc. Funnily enough, I recall several remarks being made at commencement this year about how knowing yourself is important. Jennifer Egan, the College of Arts and Science commencement speaker spoke about how writing helped “organise her reality” and urged us to “look inward” and “spend time with ourselves”. I believe in these things to be true in my life as well, but have yet to learn why that’s so because I think in all my time at Penn, I’ve felt that these were not things that were valued as much—they don’t clearly lead to bottom line results. So, I suppose I’m a) grateful that the things I valued in my journey through Penn were validated in these speeches and b) looking forward to seeing how/when it will be important.

On the note of looking ahead, I’ve mentioned before that I am worried about losing my work ethic, no longer being able to read broadly across so many different fields, failing to think critically without the push of a classroom environment. I don’t know where life will take me. It’s so unnerving to lose the reliable structure of neatly compartmentalised time blocks: 4 months in the spring semester, 4 months at home for summer and 4 months in the fall for 4 years, only to walk into a mush of time and uncertainty where I have a lot more free reign over how long I spend where. I worry that without this structure I’ve grown with, I will flail around more than I’d like.

I know I’m making this all seem so terribly depressing, but I think I just have a good memory for a lot of these things so I tend to wallow in all of it and you know, it’s both a blessing and a curse to remember so much. At the end of every semester, people are always quick to quip that time just flies, and I never really relate to that. Shahirah thinks it’s because I retain so much memory that my perception of time is a little different. And as everyone makes those same remarks again at graduation, I genuinely empathise but stop short of saying it felt like it was all just yesterday. I empathise because I realise now I will miss it, and it feels like it might have passed quickly because part of me wants it back. But I refuse to say it was just yesterday because although I cannot name the ways in which I have grown, I also don’t feel like the person I was in 2013. Is that paradoxical? She just seems so distant from who I am today. I don’t dress like that, or listen to the same music anymore. I stop short of saying it feels like just yesterday because it reduces the amount of time and energy that I clearly remember it taking to get here.

I predict that I will look back at this campus like it’s a childhood playground where I had once ran, fell and scraped my knees over and over again; a place both risky and safe all at once. I hope I never forget the late nights spent agonising over one more page of the textbook, the times I sat outside the exam hall trying to flip through my study guides just once more as quickly as possible, the stress of running from meeting to meeting feeling like there is never any time in between for anything else, tripping over the manhole on the way to class, crying on Locust over my first C. I want to remember. I want to remember everything. I want to remember where we kept all the pots and pans and glassware in our apartment, I want to remember the view from my bedroom and lab, I want to remember where the nearest bathroom is from my favourite place in Van Pelt, where the onions are at FroGro, where all my friends used to live (shout out to 4002 Ludlow I love you guys so much), which department belonged in which building, who taught me what and when, what my go-to order is at Sweetgreen I JUST WANT TO REMEMBER IT ALL. Because it was difficult to make a home out of this place and all these little things is what made it happen and I feel like if I forget, it will make everything less real.

It was real. It was real when Ken, Hui Jie and I took a spontaneous trip to Chinatown for bubble tea, when May May spent the afternoon assembling furniture with me and Shahirah, when Sha and I seemed to dress the exact same way for a whole year, when Jamie used to come down to my room just to taste some of my food, when Busra let me use her single room in Rodin as refuge because I needed a place to be alone, when Sofia drew cartoons of dogs on the blackboard when we were supposed to be solving math equations, when Cristina helped me move out of the Quad, when Rashad saw me crying on Walnut that one crappy day and walked me home, when Hanna made me pesto sandwiches, when Peter first told me the story of how he used to work at Pandora, when Clare and I watched documentaries on Bill Cunningham and Banksy like the nerds we are, when Julia and I dressed to the nines to go to Trader Joe’s during fling, when Selina got really tipsy and started walking down Locust with locked knees, when Claire and I pulled an all nighter to the soundtrack of Frozen, when Zohair, Keyan and I sang Taylor Swift tunes at the corner of the street while waiting for Penn Ride to pick us up for ice skating, when Adel finished that crossword puzzle with me, when I walked out of Rodin at 7 am to go home to sleep and Irtiqa was walking in to Rodin to go home to sleep and we laughed about it together, when Iman called the dentist demanding on my behalf that I get some pain killers after my tooth surgery, when Adam gave me crap for not following him back on Instagram, when Fayaaz took me to South Street for the first time,  when Habeeb, Doc, Yusra and I were on MSA Social Committee together, when Ahsen presented me with a tiara for my birthday, when Ahmed and I Uber-ed back from our night class at the museum, when Petra took me out to lunch as a lost little freshman, when my freshman year RA Cat gave me advice about making friends. It was all real. And I want to remember it all.

Really, it has been my friends. My friends were the ones who made this all bearable, who made this all worth it. I was talking to Professor Pollack last week, who told me about how he felt that he “had found his people” when he went to Harvard for grad school. Though I did not love the school per se, I had that same sneaking suspicion about my new friends when I came to Penn. In October, Shahirah, May May and I had a spontaneous sleepover and in the morning, decided to go to King of Prussia to shop. On the bus to the mall, I was stuck with the My Little Pony song, Friendship Is Magic and they were probably like what is wrong with this girl, but I don’t think I told them that the reason I even thought of that song in the first place was the line “I used to wonder what friendship would be, until you all shared its magic with me.” To all my friends at Penn (and I’m sorry if I didn’t mention your name here, it was inevitable that I’d miss someone), I knew when I met each one of you that I had been waiting my whole life to meet you. I think that’s the kind of feeling people describe when they talk about meeting their soulmates, so how lucky was I to have felt that with so many of you? I respect you all so much, and I will look up to you for the rest of my life. I am grateful to have met you and I will miss you all. I am 100% the type of person who gets random flashbacks of memories all the time and usually when I do, I make a mental note to mention it the next time I see that person but because I don’t know when I will see most of you next, be totally prepared for me to text you all random “omg do you remember that time when…” texts, just because that’s the kind of thing I do. And I hope to see you again soon.

So I guess, this is it. It’s over. I don’t really know what else to say, I didn’t have a nice sweet ending planned with a bow on top or whatever. But thank you, I guess. I think I will spend years of my life belatedly uncovering the gems Penn has given me that I currently don’t yet see. But for now, I will try to let it sink in that this was all once a dream, and despite everything I’ve gone through here, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else. Penn and everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting here, you are now the people and place that makes me, me.


P.S. For the few months leading up to graduation, I interviewed some of my friends about our plans or lack thereof and recorded all of those conversations. I then transcribed them and edited them into a little audio thing, and if you’re curious, have 40 minutes to spare or would just like to hear my rambly voice, you can listen to it here.

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My (very short) Penn bucket list

I’m finally drinking a latte again!

In an interview shortly after La La Land was released, Emma Stone said that she refrained from dairy while filming because it was bad for her voice/throat or something like that. So, as the Penn Monologues show weekend drew closer, I thought about that and decided I do the same, hahaha. As if I’m belting out some solos or something… Anyway, I love lattes and I missed it so much this past week. So, I had to get one on my way back from the last show, lol.

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Langston, Savannah, me, Frances, Emily, Dionysia, Jackie, Dalton, Claire and James

Penn Monologues is basically a show where about 10 students write a personal essay, submit it to the group and get chosen to perform it (or, in the case of 2 people this year, write an essay and have someone else perform it for them). I thought it was a cool idea because I love memoir, personal essays and stories… like I love going to open mic nights and speakeasies. At Penn specifically, it’s a cool way to learn a tiny little bit more about the experiences of people I probably bump into on Locust Walk on a regular basis.

I wrote about moving away from home and “growing up” kind of, other people wrote about being an immigrant, going to music festivals, their relationship with their grandparents, having a family member with autism, dealing with eating disorders and etc. I liked that the essays were diverse in subject matter and tone. Some were sad, some were happier, others were funny or a bit of both.

Honestly, I was so humbled to be among these people, and I know that sounds dramatic… it sounds like the kind of thing Oscar winners say about their fellow nominees, but honestly, I was in awe of everyone’s writing from the start. Emily’s essay was called The Space Between Us and there a couple of lines in her piece that I just absolutely loved. When describing her relationship with a friend she grew up with, she said “she invited me to her birthday party, even though I didn’t invite her to mine” and then at a later point in the piece, described how they had grown apart to the point where they walked past each other like strangers, she said “she was wearing a sweater that once sat in my closet”. OH MY GOD. SO GOOD. That’s the kind of writing I like. Simple, clever ways to aptly characterise feelings and dynamics. (And it wasn’t just Emily’s—everyone’s pieces had great lines like that, this was just one I can remember at the top of my head.)

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I literally just got this picture 2 minutes ago from my creative writing professor (in whose class I wrote the piece I performed) and she told me she was proud of me and I had all the ~feelz~

All the readings were recorded but I think it’ll take a while for it to come into my hands (or, I guess, more accurately—my inbox). So, in the meantime, if you want to see what some of the performances were like, watch some from last year’s show, like Langston’s Yogurt or Aubrey’s American Insulation.

My motivation to do this was to check off one of my very few Penn bucket list things (ok, to be honest, it might have been my one bucket list thing): to perform on a stage. I used to kind of like performing. I mean, I did very amateur cheer and some traditional dance/aerobics stuff (lol) in Form 1 & 2. I think in sekolah rendah I used to try out for storytelling and perform here and there for things like teachers’ day or whatever. But that was ages ago now. Whatever spark of inspiration I had ever gotten from all the people who have told me that I should dance or act has long since dissipated. But I knew I still had that impulse and I wanted to do just one because it seemed more daunting here at Penn than anywhere else I had ever been before. Penn Monologues seemed pretty low key (i.e. no long hours of rehearsals and no singing or choreography whatsoever) so I decided to submit a piece.

And I’m really glad I did. A few other people in that cast also had no real prior experience performing so I didn’t feel alone. Plus, I just genuinely liked everyone in the group. My favourite thing about it—and I totally didn’t expect to feel this way—was that it has been the experience most comparable to the feeling you get around hari sukan parades and stuff back in school… like, everyone working together to put on this thing and getting nervous about it right before going on. I’ve organised quite a few events at Penn, but I think none of those other events made me (and everyone else in the group) nervous enough, nor was the event fun and entertaining enough (that is, they were always more serious stuff) that it brought the whole group together quite rapidly. And it might just be me, but I appreciated the subtle moments of camaraderie I had with the other cast members backstage and how quickly we can form inside jokes when we’re putting on a show, etc. So yeah, I’m glad I did it.

Shoutouts also to my friends who came to the show: Hui Jie, Shahirah, Ken, Oliver, Kim, Eliza, Busra, Irtiqa, Iman, Dania. Two of my professors from last semester also came to see the show, which was so nice! Admittedly, they didn’t come for me specifically but I still loved seeing Dr. Paxton and Jamie-Lee in the crowd. Special shoutout to my friend Clare (!!!) who helped me edit this essay and practice performing it. I know paying money to give up a couple of hours on a weekend is not easy. I have declined many invites to shows over the last 4 years, so I know this to be a fact and I genuinely appreciate all of these people so very much.

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My friends being super supportive. Hui Jie is pointing to my name in the program! They screamed my name when I walked on stage and I was a little startled, haha.

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My friends who could relate most to my piece ❤

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Good friend + show director 🙂

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Iman, Busra & Irtiqa ❤

Okay, so moving on from the show…

This weekend was also just generally an insanely pleasant one. The weather has been wonderful and I’ve just been having such a good time. On Friday night, after my show, Irtiqa, Iman and I headed over to West Philly for our friends Sanaa and Zahraa’s birthday dinner at Aksum. Food was really good and I just had such a good time catching up with the MSA girls. It’s one of those nights you laugh a lot and don’t remember what was so funny 2 hours later.

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I made the birthday girls pause in that position so that I could take this picture lol

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Our waitress (Casey, I think) was THE BEST. She ran after us because someone left their takeaway box on the table and she took this for us.

I also hung out with some of the other cast members from Penn Monologues that same night. We went to Dalton’s place—and he has a cat by the way!!! Thank goodness it was the most well-behaved cat ever and stayed firmly on one side of the room. Needless to say, it was the side of the room I did not venture to. Anyway, we had pizza at his place and watched Parks and Rec. I got to know Dalton, Savannah, James, Claire and Frances a little bit. Clare was also there (yes, there are two “Claires” except it’s Clare with no i and Claire with an i) and I loved getting to hang out with her more. I realised I hadn’t hung out with her in a group since probably our freshman year when our RA would have office hours for our hall to come over and eat snacks, so yeah, that was nice.

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Spot Dalton’s siamese cat behind him.

On Saturday evening, I went to Simply Chaos’ show. They’re a stand-up comedy group and I literally just found out about them this semester which makes me so sad because I would’ve loved to see all of their other shows. In fact, I only found out about them at all because this one guy who’s in the Monologue show was also doing the Simply Chaos show on the same weekend so a bunch of people were talking about that. But yeah, the show was hilarious. I went alone, and usually, when I go anywhere alone, I laugh a little less because I’m a little more self-conscious but I just couldn’t even think about that at all during their show. It was just hilarious and I had such a good time.

I also got to hang out with Hui Jie this past weekend. She came over on Friday and was whining about how hungry she was so we decided to go get some egg tarts! That quite quickly turned into an afternoon tea session where she tried to teach me how to say “my name is Dayana”, “I am from Malaysia”, “I study in the USA” and “I am hungry” in Danish over egg tarts and custard buns, hahaha. And of course, we haven’t had enough time with each other this weekend so we’re going out for dinner tonight, too!

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Anyway, that’s all for this week, I think! I might come back and edit this when I have the video from the show but until then, have a good week!! 🙂

I want to remember this.

It’s funny. I always think it’s quite difficult to write about my week when I’m having a bad week because I don’t want to seem mopey or whiney and I just, I mean, who likes showing the world (lol as if the world reads my blog) how they screw up? But I have found that it is as hard, if not harder, to write about my week when things are going particularly well. It’s the same reason why writing a cover letter can be so difficult—tooting your own horn isn’t comfortable at all. Or at least, for me it’s not.

All of which is to say, things have been going well as of late.

I had so much fun last Tuesday in particular. First, my Astronomy homework deadline got ~extended~ one week so that was grrrreat. Tuesdays are also when movies are half off at the local cinema so Hui Jie, Jamie and I went to see Beauty and the Beast. It was so… Disney. And I loved it. I mean, objectively speaking, it’s not a great movie in the sense that I probably wouldn’t rewatch it the way I do Princess Diaries or Pitch Perfect but it was like all the feelings you get when you go to Disneyland, put into a movie. I think Be Our Guest was my favourite scene and you’ll just have to see it to know why.

A few days before we watched the movie though, Jamie tagged the two of us in this old Facebook post of a video where someone dubbed a scene from Beauty and the Beast with Singaporean slang which was really popular at the time. Anyway, so when the equivalent of that scene came on when we watched it on Tuesday, I just could NOT help laughing because I was replaying the Singaporean version in my mind!!! It was really funny but then Hui Jie got annoyed with me because it disrupted her swooning LOL.

Us, after the movie!

Hui Jie and I also went to Zavino for early dinner before the movie. We got our fav: rosemary flatbread with ricotta. The dish, I think, is meant to be a small plate appetizer type thing but we get it as mains because it’s that good. The whole time we ate, we were just like “oh my god” “oh my god this is so good” “this is amazing”. It was also between 4.30-6.30pm so some small plates are half off! Basically, last Tuesday was like… discount day.

She insisted on being in the picture, LOL

This past week, I also had the chance to sit down with Professor Caroline Connolly. I took Introduction to Psychology with her in my very first semester at Penn, then I took a seminar (10-person, discussion-based class) on Young Adulthood in Developmental Psychology last semester and now I’m one of her TAs for her current Intro class. She had heard that I’m working on this audio piece about graduation (I don’t think I’ve mentioned that on here yet, but yeah, I am, and I promise I’ll say more about that later once I have a better idea of what it’s going to look like) and she just wanted to chat about it. It was really cool because we literally sat for two and a half hours talking about graduation, the period right after it which often makes us feel like we’re “flailing” around, about whether college is “worth it”, studying abroad (she studied in Ireland!) and about building character at this age/life stage.

I also liked getting to learn a lot more about her, her background and family etc and I really liked that because there are very few professors I know beyond classroom interactions. If you know me, you’ll know I hate having very surface-level relationships and interactions (I’m always secretly dying inside when people talk about the weather) so it’s nice to just have real relationships with professors, if that makes sense. It makes them seem so much more… human and approachable. Not that she wasn’t human before, but my writing professor Jamie-Lee once said that she thinks if students see professors around campus, walking their dog or going for a run or eating the same places they do, it helps to combat the idea that college is this high-pressure, mechanical place. I get what she means, but I don’t really know how to explain.

It was also a pretty productive week, I just felt like a got a lot of work done while also managing to binge the new-ish HBO miniseries, Big Little Lies and play a ton of Sporcle quizzes, hahaha. Plus, some of what made this week a good one was just little things like hearing from my friend Aish who messaged me and Shahirah last Wednesday, having a great time with Hui Jie and Ken on our every-Tuesday-and-Thursday-after-Astronomy lunches and just putting together good breakfasts for myself.

I also had a great end to the week. On Sunday afternoon, I had my first “practice” for a show I’m going to be in, called Penn Monologues! It’s a show where about 12 students read personal essays and I guess the whole point is about demonstrating how we’re all connected through storytelling and sharing experiences. The proceeds from the show are going to be donated to a local social justice organisation. I’ve never performed in this capacity before so it should be interesting. I’m excited to work with my amazing friend Clare who is the director for the show. Yesterday, we went through my essay, talked about some edits and ways to practice on my own so, yeah… a lot of work to do on that front.

Later that night night was “Sing, City! 6” which is Club Singapore’s once-in-every-two-years (is there a word for that?) musical production. I had so much fun hearing Singlish (Singaporean English), which is very very similar to Manglish (Malaysian English) on stage at Penn. There were a lot of times throughout the show where I was like, “are the Americans here going to understand that?” and then I realise that it doesn’t matter because this show wasn’t made for them, or for them to so easily understand everything. There were “subtitles” to translate certain terms like encik but they mention things and places like A-Levels and Tanjong Pagar without any context and I just liked how cultural shows signal who the show is “for” in that way and it’s an interesting learning experience for people who aren’t from that culture. Anyway, the directors , Oliver and Rebecca live across me and Shahirah and I was so proud of them for how hard they’ve worked despite having little to no experience putting on a show. My good friend Jamie was the logistics chair, and I know how hard she worked securing venue and getting food and helping out with odd ends and I was SO PROUD of her, I screamed so loud and was tearing up like the sappy person I am when she went up on stage at the end of the show. I genuinely respect and admire their spirit (as Hui Jie calls it, the Singaporean spirit) to go all out with anything they do and to work tirelessly to make up for lack of experience.

The opening of the show. Note the (blurry) girl in SIA uniform.

Oliver and Rebecca giving their thanks at the end of the show

Anyway, I’m sorry this was late. On one hand, I couldn’t bring myself to write such a happy post, and on the other hand I also wanted to include the show which ended late night on Sunday on here so here I am writing last week’s post on Monday. Looking ahead I have… an astronomy midterm *cowers down in agony* so I really need to get back to studying for that. Until next time, I hope you enjoyed reading. These are the kinds of weeks I just really want to remember when I look back on my time at Penn.

Graduation Goggles?

I had coffee recently with an alum named Alex, who asked me how it feels to be so close to the end of my college career. I think about this a lot—like, I can actually confidently say I think about it everyday—but I never really know what to say when someone asks.

In a way, I like it. I like that it’s coming to an end because I’m so tired. I’m not saying that the “real world” is easier than school because I know that you’re responsible for so much more once you start working etc (or at least, so I’ve been told), but the thing about being in college is that you are doing your job 24/7. I wake up in the morning even on weekends and I try to get to work as soon as possible. I am tempted to get into bed at 11.30 p.m. on a weekday and my mind sends out an internal alert that’s basically saying, “um, are you sure you can afford that?”. Working hours are so fluid, so boundaryless. If you’re writing an essay or studying for an exam, there’s always another sentence you can edit or another chapter you could go over again. There’s just no limit to how much you can work, especially when you LIVE on a campus and almost everywhere you look, people are working. Imagine living in your office with all your colleagues?! Anyway. I’m eager to get away from this pressure cooker of a place.

I also like the feeling of being almost done. It’s this silly thing that our human brains do where like, we see things differently the closer we are to it being finished. You know what I mean: graduation goggles. I now have all this premature nostalgia and it’s so interesting because it’s one thing to have nostalgia about a phase of your life that’s behind you, but it’s a whole other thing to feel nostalgic about something that hasn’t ended, because it’s this brief window of time when you get to live it and almost miss it at the same time. When Alex asked me how I felt, I told her it feels strange—there were all these things I had always known I should feel grateful for but still used to whine about, and now I’m suddenly talking about them like “Wow isn’t this great? This is amazing. Look at this bitter cold, it’s wonderful. I have a midterm next week, how exciting!”

Okay, obviously that was a slight exaggeration. But yeah, I walk down Walnut on my way to class every day and in my mind I’m like, “thanks, Philly; thanks for hosting me these past few years”. Most (if not all) of my freshman-year wide-eyed wonder dissipated without notice a long time ago. I no longer walk through any corner of campus feeling the need to look around, no more “what building is this?”, no more “oh, that’s where that road leads to”. All that freshness has gone, only to be replaced by a sense of familiarity and comfort. But this premature nostalgia, these “graduation goggles” have resurrected my freshman-year eyesight to some extent. For the first time in a long time, I’m seeing Van Pelt library as a brilliant resource instead of just referring to it as a place that smells like socks and feels like fatigue. For the first time in a long time, I’m trying to go to as many events as I can instead of mindlessly skimming through Facebook event invites. It’s nice.

But of course, I can’t ignore the undercurrent of impending grief that powers my nostalgia. I have said this repeatedly, but soon, I won’t live within a 1-mile radius of all my friends. My friends are not going to come over at a moment’s notice at midnight to hang out with me until we can no longer hold up our eyelids. Soon, I won’t be handed dense readings about everything from economics to pop culture and be pushed to read and discuss them. I won’t be invited to hear people like Joe Biden and Malcolm Gladwell speak anymore. That… sucks.

It especially sucks because even though I know I’ve gotten a lot out of Penn—events, speakers, classes, leadership roles, mentors—I don’t see how I’m any better because of it. So, part of me just isn’t ready to leave. It’s like going to the petrol station with a malfunctioning gas indicator and feeling like you can’t leave yet even though you have to because you don’t think your tank is full yet. Does that make sense? Do you know what I mean? I don’t think I’ve gotten enough skills yet, or become smart enough yet. I could still become so much sharper, so much more polished.

Seriously though, I know I’ve mentioned this before but my fear of stagnation runs so deep. I worry that I’ve laboured over all these college courses—without quite knowing how they will someday benefit me—only to settle in a crappy office job where I don’t feel like I’m learning and growing. I am fully aware that I risk sounding like the typical whining millennial but say what you want, I genuinely worry that I’ve worked so hard only for it to not matter, for it to not amount to anything more than to act as a bit of glimmer on an otherwise-dull resume.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, and I think part of what’s driving this specific feeling is the fact that I’m probably not heading to some high-paying, prestigious job. I feel like the culture at Penn is such that a significant fraction of my graduating class will head to finance and consulting jobs so having other jobs can make you feel like you’re “underachieving”, even if going to Wall Street is the last thing you want. But there is a certain rigor, or at least, a perception of an intellectual rigor that is associated with finance and consulting jobs that I feel like I will be missing out on. I mean, I have to stress that I don’t think other jobs are easy, but the culture at large definitely treats it that way; whether or not you believe it yourself, the belief slowly seeps through your skin and gets to you.

I’m trying to remind myself that there are ways to learn beyond school, even if it means a loss of a structure I’ve gotten so used to. I’m trying to remind myself that meaningful, honest work is never ever beneath me, even if I can calculate in dollar terms what my opportunity cost is. I’m trying to remind myself I am not sealing my fate, that my future isn’t irreversible; it cannot be cemented by donning a cap and gown and walking across the stage. But it’ll take some time.

So, with 11 weeks to go… that’s where I’m at.

A string of good days

I’ve had a good, pretty fun first week back. First of all, my classes seem pretty chill this semester compared to what I had last semester. Or at least, they seem that way for now. I have my Psychology Independent Research, which is a continuation of last semester’s work at a psycholinguistics research lab. I also have a Judgement and Decisions lecture; I was adamant about not taking another psychology seminar this semester. For anyone who isn’t familiar: lectures are huge classes and you don’t participate very much, but seminars tend to be about 10-15 people and the whole thing is discussion based. Seminars last semester were just too much work—like 100 pages of readings per class per week—and I never had time to do anything else if I wanted to get those done and get them done well. Apparently the professor for the lecture I’m in now is super chill; he lets us take open book exams and I’m all for a relaxed final semester academically so YES.

I also have to spend 3 hours a week in an intro Psychology lecture because I’m TA-ing for the class. It’s now my third semester sitting in PSYC 001 lectures! It’s particularly interesting this semester though, because this Spring, it’s being taught by Professor Connolly, who I took intro with in my first semester at Penn so there’s a nice little “comes full circle” thing going on.

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Apart from Psychology courses, I’m also taking an intro Astronomy class which is like…. fine, whatever, I just need to take one science class to graduate so I’ll do it. I also have a creative writing class that I’m taking for fun that didn’t seem particularly fun last week so I might not stick with it but that’s yet to be determined. Hmm. I do want to practice my writing, but how much of that has to be done in a class setting? Especially if the class kind of… annoys me.

I am particularly excited about Penn Perspectives, though. It’s a lecture series for seniors, and in our applications, we stated who our favourite professors were (mine was Professor Pollack, obviously) and which professors we’ve always wanted to take classes with but never got to. Based on that, they invited a different professor to give us a lecture each week—no homework or anything, just attending lectures for the sake of learning. Our first lecture was by an accomplished psych professor, Paul Rozin. Interestingly, I’ve had one lecture by him each year at Penn haha.

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First lecture with Dr Rozin feat. guy blocking my view.

But anyway, this week was so nice for, *deep breaths* so. many. reasons. Primarily, my beloved Hui Jie is back from Copenhagen!!! She doesn’t live across the hall from me anymore but better two blocks over than across the freakin’ Atlantic. We had our favourite takeout together on Wednesday night, class + lunch together on Thursday and she came over today to hang out with me. I got to give her the birthday present I got for her in London and we shared pictures from our trips while we sat on my living room couch and it was just really nice to see her again. The last time I saw her was in July when I visited her in Singapore, which was just too long ago.

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HJ and me with our matching gummy smiles, striped shirts and fried rice ❤

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She’s back to sleeping on me.

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Unwrapping her present 😀

In general, I just really liked seeing all my friends again this week. May May and I made a trip to Trader Joe’s together and caught up on our winter breaks. I cooked dinner for Kim on Monday. Jamie and I had ice cream together late night on her bedroom floor. Shi Yi gave me amazing hot chocolate and hung out at my place playing Rubik’s cubes with me and Shahirah. Oliver got me biscottis from Flour Bakery in Boston on his birthday. Excuse me for being cheesy, but I will never take for granted the love I feel just having these people around me.

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I made sweet sour fish and stir fried vegetables for dinner, which Kim and Jamie loved (or at least, said they loved lol)—it made me so happy.

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Continuing with my kale chips obsession. I’ve gotten Jamie and Kim onto this kale chips bandwagon with me. Kim got me my GTL from Starbucks!

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Kim, Shiyi and Jamie ❤

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It’s also a really exciting time at the cinemas right now, isn’t it?! In the past week, I watched La La Land with Shahirah and Hidden Figures with Ken and Selina. I loved them both so much for very different reasons.

La La Land was beautiful. I was so taken by the cinematography and the creative uses of sound, if that makes sense? The composition of each shot, the colours, the outfits… Every single scene was truly a sight to behold. I also just love a good I-want-to-follow-my-dreams story, so when you toss in the fact that it’s a musical with large dance numbers and a somewhat complex love story, it’s basically a formula for Dayana’s Perfect Movie. It just lifts your spirits. My sister Julia and I have pretty much been hooked on the soundtrack for days. I think the main reason I loved it though, was… hm, how do I say this without spoiling the movie? I think it represents the way my memory works, and the way I think about things in my own past. Yeah. That’s it.

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La La Land was only showing at Ritz East and a trip to Old City is not complete without a quick stop at Franklin Fountain. This parmesan ice cream was amazing.

Hidden Figures was also fantastic, I highly recommend it. I think Hidden Figures is probably more appealing to a wider audience than La La Land was because I can imagine how some people would watch the latter and just be like “that’s it?” but the former is more exciting plot wise. It’s definitely my favourite ~space movie~ (let’s not talk about Interstellar, gah, I hate that one). I mean, it obviously wasn’t just about space. It deals with the deep intersections of race, class and gender in the workplace, within our families and in our greater societies. The events of the film take place during the segregation and I remember thinking, I thought I knew how segregation was bad but every time you see it being played out you gain a deeper appreciation for how atrocious it really was and for me, it affirmed my faith in art as a means for building empathy while also entertaining. Even though Hidden Figures revolved around a huge things like space mission and racism, it still manages this lightheartedness because it makes you laugh and I greatly appreciated the balance of seriousness/lightness.

I’ve also been doing a lot of cooking experimentations which is really fun! I always enjoy cooking because I feel like it’s a creative, healthy way to practice taking care of yourself. This past week, I’ve mostly experimented with breakfast foods. I just am such a huge fan of brunch that I always find myself tempted to make those kinds of foods. I cut open a ripe avocado for the first time this past week and I’ve been enjoying having avocado with my eggs for breakfast. I also made smoothies and rosti which were so good. I’ll probably detail all of that in a separate post because this is already getting pretty lengthy, haha.

Until then, thanks for reading 🙂

Week 17: DONE AND DUSTED.

Hi everyone!!!! I’m SO glad to say that I am done with junior year. I had finals throughout this week… On Monday, I took my last Econ exam ever. Then on Tuesday, I sent in my 7-page paper for Cultural Psychology. I spent Wednesday and Thursday preparing for my last two exams which were International Political Economy as well as Language and Thought on Friday.

My psychology and political science exams went well, I think! Or at least, as good as I could imagine them being, given the amount of preparation I put in. Econ was a brutal mess, though I can’t say I was surprised. I spent a good amount of time sitting there waiting for someone to leave first so that I could get out of there. Hahaha. I’ve never really been too good at Economics, especially since at Penn it’s basically 90% math. But it’s over!! My grades should come out within the next week, so whatever happens, happens—I’m just so ready to move on. Seriously. Very ready. Could not be more ready.

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Me studying with my usual Econ study buds the night before the exam. At this point we were all so exasperated and just started playing with our phones and stalking people on Facebook and Instagram.

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I brought food to eat during the exam, haha. I was so scared I would get nauseous again.

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Working on my paper.

It was a pleasant semester, I have to say. Usually, I come out of finals on my hands and knees, teeth gritted, exhausted from head to toe and just relieved to get out of it all. But this time, I was super relaxed. It took me a while, but I think part of the reason is I’ve finally started to get the hang of consistent effort. Another part of the reason is maybe I’ve stopped caring so much hehe. But also, maybe it’s because I really enjoyed my classes this year. I’ve learned to listen to myself and not force myself to take classes just because I think it’s important or it’ll help me at work or whatever, but I’m taking classes on things I want to learn about and really care about (on the most part anyway).

Also, not to mention, the professors I had this semester were AMAZING. I wrote them thank you notes because I couldn’t emphasise enough how happy I felt all semester to be in their classes. Especially Professor Pollack!!! If you’ve been following closely you know he is my absolute favourite at Penn everrrrr.

NOW HERE IS ME BEING SUPER AWKWARD AFTER ASKING A PROFESSOR FOR A PICTURE:

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Me, unshowered and awkward as hellllllll, with Vivienne, my lovely TA, and Professor Pollack, all-star professor.

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Just before our exam! One minute before, to be precise. This is captioned separation anxiety because even though I was happy to be done with finals, I could feel it in my body that I was going to miss this class so much.

I’m just chilling in my apartment now, grateful to be officially on summer break. I spent the afternoon just watching videos and clearing up my school stuff for recycling. Thinking about packing is making me really nervous though, because this summer will be the last time I go home before I graduate next year so I want to send clothes and books I’m not using back to Malaysia so that things will be easier next year.

My friend Hui Jie left this morning to go on a road trip with Selina! She’s going to the south, to New Orleans and some cities in Texas. It should be awesome. She’s not coming back next semester though, because she will be taking a semester to study in COPENHAGEN which is super cool for her but I’m going to miss my cafe/gym/study/pizza/maggi buddy. Seriously, that little girl is tiny but mighty. I respect her and look up to her so much.

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The last time we’ll hang out at my place until next January!!!!! 😦

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She left me with her prized possession, her lap desk for me to use my laptop on my bed more comfortably!! Ok fine, I may have put in a little plug for this earlier this semester, but she still gave it to me even though I later forgot about it.

She’s also such a great friend! I kinda mentioned this on Instagram, but I was insanely sick last weekend. I threw up everything from Friday night to Saturday night. Literally, as soon as I swallowed something I would have to run to the toilet—my stomach was absolutely NOT having it at all. So on Saturday night, we went to the Emergency Room at the Penn hospital. Our friend Shaun drove us over, and I’m so thankful to him for that. Hui Jie stayed with me the whole night. We played two truths and a lie while we waited for the doctor and watched Saturday Night Live together while I was getting the IV treatment thing. It was my first time doing that and I was a little scared. I felt so much better after that and thankfully we didn’t have to stay the night.

The one thing I will say though is that I really appreciate how in Malaysia, we can just go to a clinic when we’re sick. Student Health Services closes on weekends and at night, so we couldn’t go there and had to go straight to the ER. And even though I felt really week, I still had to do some paperwork and look up my insurance details and whatnot. I just want to be babied, to be honest.

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The last meal I had (with Jamie!) before I got sick.

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…and then later that weekend.

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We were both so sleepy 😦

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By the time we left to go home it was like 2.30 a.m.

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My friends are absolutely wonderful: my roommate Shahirah picked up my prescriptions for me from CVS and bought me bread + gatorade :’) Hui Jie cooked me alphabet soup with all my halal ingredients and pot and stuff, and the tea is from Christina from last year!

If you are wondering, I am feeling much much much better now. As good as ever, alhamdulillah 🙂 I’m looking forward to a relaxing week ahead with my friends and to being home soon!

As for this blog, THANK YOU so much for following it, whether you’ve only read one or if you’ve read them all, it has been one of my favourite things about junior year. And honest to god, I am typing this with a huge smile on my face 🙂 I highly recommend other people to do it too because writing helps put things into perspective and it helps with building my sense of discipline. Plus, it’s fun to look back and remember what happened when. I think I am probably going to take at least a week off from this to think about whether or not I want to continue blogging or if I do, what “direction” I’m going to take with this. But I just really want to say this has been so much fun!!!! And I appreciate everyone who has reached out to me to say they enjoyed it and what not, it really means so much to me.

Take care!

Week 16: Wrapping Up…

I’ve had a pretty good time this past week, I can’t complain too much. My club put together our semesterly speaker event last week, which was pretty cool. Once a semester, we invite a prominent Asian figure to speak about their experiences and this semester, we got Yellow Rage, a Philly-based spoken word duo to come perform and talk about their current projects. It was a really great performance and I’m glad our team got to have dinner with them afterwards too. It was tough pulling this event together. I didn’t think it would be this difficult but I’m so proud of the team for making it happen. The event was good; I think when I’m organising something I scrutinize every little thing that could’ve been better and get stressed out about it. But people seemed to enjoy it and anxieties aside, I think it went pretty well!

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5/7 of our board with Michelle and Catzie of Yellow Rage. (L-R: Jamie, Luke, Catzie, Michelle, Sydney, Wendy and me)

Another really exciting that happened is that I’m done with classes for junior year!!! Classes ended for this semester on Wednesday and it’s now reading days, which is basically a time for me to half-heartedly prepare for finals I am not ready for.

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Me with Joanna and Erin, my cultural psychology classmates at our last class together.

All of this also means my friends and I are pretty much seniors now! We had Hey Day today, to celebrate the ~moving on up~ of the junior class to becoming senior class. It’s just some Penn tradition thing—we wear red t-shirts, styrofoam hats and carry around wooden canes and we march down Locust Walk together. I mean, I honestly did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The picnic part of the morning was so disorienting… everyone was loud and drunk, and I hate crowds so all of that made me really antsy. People were also like, rounding up their friends to get group pictures, which was really difficult because I’d be pulled aside to take one picture but as we’re walking around trying to complete that group, I’d bump into someone else who’s looking for me and all of that just made me really dizzy. But it was still moderately enjoyable (haha) because I’m glad I got to see a lot of my friends today and I’m happy to be this much closer to senior year.

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Hui Jie, Shahirah, Ken, Peter, Lian Han ❤ ❤ ❤

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Class of 2017 Malaysians!

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Freshman hall friends ❤

Just before Hey Day started though, I attended the Psychology department’s poster presentations, where all the students who did their independent research studies in the department get to talk about what they’ve worked on and discuss their findings with other students and professors. Some of my friends and classmates were there presenting their work, which was really awesome to see! I really love seeing people accomplish things and I was honestly really amazed by a lot of their work. I was particularly happy to meet this one girl, whose project I will be developing further for my research project next year. I got to talk to her about working with the Psycholinguistics professor in the lab and her experience with the project in general. She seemed really excited to know that I was going to be continuing this work, which I thought was really sweet. Coincidentally, the person who worked on this project before her was also there the same time I was and it was… a moment. You know? It’s like 3 generations of students who will have worked on this project and are really excited about this topic. They were both very supportive and I really appreciated that.

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My friend Joanna explaining her research to Dr. Kurzban, the Psychology undergraduate advisor.

On the whole though, this week has really been all about the end of year events. I just got back from the senior farewell dinner with the Malaysians at an Indonesian restaurant in South Philly. It’s a little sad to see them go but I’m so excited for everything that’s ahead of them. There was also a end-of-year dinner for the Asian community house and I got to go. The speeches were really moving and it’s always nice to come together and congratulate the graduates. 🙂

I’m really looking forward to getting a break from Penn, honestly. But first, I have a 7-page paper to write and 3 finals to take so……. I’m going to go to sleep, hehe. Until next time!